In American Gods 1X07 “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” we discover a kinder, gentler leprechaun
While we have seen Mad Sweeney, drink, swear, fight, and escape death, we still know so very little about the ginger leprechaun who has sworn his allegiance to Mr. Wednesday. This week, in “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney,” we are introduced to his story. Narrated by Mr. Ibis and viewed through the eyes of one Essie McGowan, we learn of his winding journey to America. After a fling with her employer’s son earns her a charge of theft, the young woman is sentenced to transportation to America. She convinces the ship’s captain to return her to London as his wife before embarking on a life of robbery. After another trip to prison and a second, lifetime sentence, she eventually settles in Virginia and grows old there. Throughout it all, she carries with her the stories her grandmother told her of the fair folk, and makes offerings to the leprechaun for luck.
Meanwhile, in present day, Laura decides to release Salim of his chauffeuring duties and accepts Mad Sweeney’s destination of the House on the Rock. Driving in a stolen ice cream truck and forced to be cordial, she makes small talk to get to know him better. He tells her that he was once a king rich with gold, but he was reduced to a legend along with the rest of the fairy folk. After seeing a vision of his own death upon a battlefield, he ran away. Sweeney explains that this is the reason why he has joined up with Wednesday, because he feels that he owes a death to the universe. Shortly after, Laura overturns the truck and ends up being thrown from it, ripping her chest open and releasing the coin trapped inside. Mad Sweeney ends up bringing her back to life by reinserting the coin, and they continue on their way.
It was high time that our favorite angry leprechaun got to tell his story, and boy was it a good one! There’s a lot of layers in this week’s episode, so without further ado, here’s our roundtable:
Sky (@MzSkyZy) – Book fan, Bureaucrat and Admin on the American Gods Wiki
Nicola (@NicolaChoi) – Book fan and Editor at TVAfterDark
Stevi (@smd) – Book fan, Fuller fan, blogger at DamnYourDarkEyes.tumblr.com
Mo (@BookDreamer01) – Host of TV Movie Mistress, a podcast for TV watchers
1. This is the first time that we’ve had Mr. Ibis personally narrate the entire episode. Why do we think that is?
Sky (@MzSkyZy): Because Demore Barnes’ voice is spectacular, obviously. But also probably because the Coming to America story was interwoven throughout the whole episode instead of being a prologue. I also liked getting to see more of Ibis and Jacquel’s domesticity.
Nicola (@NicolaChoi): Doesn’t he narrate all the Coming to Americas? I suppose those I get because he’s writing them down. Mr. Ibis is Thoth, scribe of the underworld. He’s credited with inventing hieroglyphics, the written word and literary arts. So I suppose if anyone were to narrate it, it would be Mr. Ibis–or even Mr. Nancy, with his endless stories and tales. But I think Mr. Ibis has a more sombre over-tone and as seen with Essie’s tale, a kind of formal yet chipper rhythm to it. I could not imagine Mr. Nancy narrating the entire hour…I’d laugh my ass off.
Stevi (@smd): I wonder if we’ll find out that the whole episode was in the past from the perspective of Shadow and Wednesday’s timeline. But honestly, any reason to hear more Demore Barnes is fine by me. Get both him and Chris Obi audio book contracts STAT.
Mo (@BookDreamer01): Even though we’ve heard him speak/narrate before this was almost a reveal of sorts for Mr. Ibis. We get his role in all of this as possibly the storyteller or it’s possible he is more of an oracle and we are simply seeing what will be or has been through him.
2. We don’t know about you, but seeing Laura’s face as Essie was a shock. Does that seem like a coincidence to you?
Sky: I thought it was brilliant. The Coming to America stories in the novel are mostly detached vignettes with little to do with the main Shadow story. In the show, they’ve changed little bits of the stories while keeping the underlying themes and it creates a cohesion that was missing from the book. It’s an improvement on already phenomenal storytelling and that takes incredible skill.
Nicola: I think it’s probably something to do with the new direction they said they were taking Laura and Mad Sweeney down…I think they’d likely wanna keep Browning and Schreiber, such scene-stealers, in the show, But yeah, it was an absolute shock. I have no idea why, so maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s a plot point that’ll be revealed. I liked Emily Browning’s accent though!
Stevi: Since I keep up actively with all the news from the show, I knew she was also playing Essie. But I did enjoy the way they revealed it. And I love how they they created ties between Essie and Laura. And seeing Mad Sweeney be so kind to Essie and then so cold to Laura.
Mo: I don’t think so, in many ways the two women were similar in terms of outlook and will to survive. At first I wondered if this might have been an ancestor of Laura’s, but it was likely that they are more kindred spirits; bored face much? lol
3. Why do we think Essie was the focus of an episode about Mad Sweeney?
Sky: It was Essie who influenced Mad Sweeney to give the coin back to Laura. The two people besides Sweeney to hold onto the gold coin were Essie (who gave it its power) and Laura (who took its power away from Sweeney). When Essie was dying, Mad Sweeney showed her the coin to welcome her to her afterlife because gods can also be kind. Sweeney regrets taking Laura’s first life, but I’d like to think that now he looks at this as a chance to be kind again and welcome Laura to her second death like he did with Essie.
I’m still teetering on whether Laura is alive because Shadow wished it (as Wednesday tells him last episode to let her fade away) or because Laura wished it to escape her afterlife. In the novel, Wednesday is genuinely surprised and confused when he learns Laura is back from the dead. I’m not sure how the magic in the coin works but maybe the only reason it was able to raise Laura from the dead is because of a (genetic?) connection between Essie and Laura, lending credence to it being Laura’s wish that brought her back to life.
Nicola: Well I guess it’s just coming straight off the book pages. There’s a tale of Essie Turner and the leprechauns, told pretty much exactly like they did it on the show. As for it specifically being Mad Sweeney, I don’t know. See answer 2! There must be something to it. Instead of it just being slap bang at the start, it’s interspersed as they journey along together. But I couldn’t tell you!
Stevi: Essie brought Mad Sweeney to America, and gave him his current quest – to bring gold to the king of America.
Mo: To connect his storyline with Laura, as the both of them have become intertwined within the larger plot line.
4. In present day, why do you think Laura suddenly decided to let Salim go on his way?
Sky: Salim is so good and pure that even Laura’s cold, dead heart can see he doesn’t need to put up with Sweeney’s bullshit longer than necessary.
Nicola: I think what Laura realises in this afterlife is that her home was not Eagle Point where she was just endlessly unhappy. Her home, now, is Shadow. When she has her heart-to-heart with Salim, she understands going after your heart. So Laura is kind of just like: you know what, I’m dead, you love your dude, go chase your dude because I never got to do it with mine.
Stevi: Laura feels the draw to Shadow but cannot go directly to him until she gets her soup problem fixed. She realized she could at least give that freedom to Salim. We get to see that in death, Laura is changing, recognizing the feelings and wants of another person and helping them achieve them.
Mo: I’m honestly not sure, I mean it’s possible she felt bad for him; but I also thought it was shortsighted to get rid of him with Sweeney’s bad luck and Laura being dead and all.
5. Anyone feel like the bunny was put there on purpose? If so, what was its purpose?
Sky: My first thought was of the Easter bunny and the previews from next week’s show we’re finally going to meet Easter. If I were to speculate, I’d guess Easter was doing Wednesday a favor because Wednesday didn’t take too kindly to Mad Sweeney telling him to “fuck off” earlier.
Nicola: There’s this god in the book called The God of Pets and she’s this sweet lil thang who’s a New God and vapes with Tech Boy in his limo sometimes as our obsession with pets grow. It’s all those cat ladies. (Think of the bunnies = holiday = God).
Stevi: The bunny must be a spy from Easter. I think that Easter is Mad Sweeney’s resurrection guy, and she’s got some warning what Mad Sweeney wants, so she wants to get more information. I vacillate on whether the bunny caused accident was intentional, either from Easter or Wednesday – it seems a bit far fetched, but then again, I already accept bunnies are spies for Easter.
Mo: Yup, the bunny has to be an agent of Mr. Wednesday sent to cause the accident on purpose and get rid of Laura from possibly interfering with whatever plans Mr. Wednesday has for Shadow.
6. We found out towards the end that Mad Sweeney had a hand in Laura’s death. What was your reaction?
Sky: I’ve always suspected Wednesday was involved in the accident somehow and with the ravens in “Git Gone,” that’s when it was confirmed, but I had no idea Sweeney was the other driver. That was a great twist and really helped sell why Sweeney gave the coin back to Laura.
Nicola: Again I don’t think it was a book thing (?) but it definitely surprised me, yes. I suppose poetically you could come full circle and say well he led Essie Turner to peace, and now he’s bringing antagonistic Laura to a different kinda peace. But I mean – we know Mr. Wednesday had a hand in the accident for unknown reasons, and Mad Sweeney was his big man at the time, so…
Stevi: I had suspected that was the case. But to see it so vividly, him watching to make sure she died while being so detached – that hurt. It was a level of detachment we hadn’t seen from him.
Mo: I wasn’t surprised, what was more telling about the reveal might be how long Mr. Wednesday has been pulling the strings from behind.
7. Do we think that the coin that means so much to Mad Sweeney is the same one Essie gave him?
Sky: It would make a lot of sense and be much more symbolic and meaningful if it were the same coin. Sweeney already mentioned his lucky coin was instilled with power for the “King of America” and this episode, we get to see how it brought him to America. The horde of other coins (his “pot o’ gold”) is meaningless because it’s a latter-day perversion of what he originally was. Because she believed in him, Essie’s coin actually *meant* something, making it the most valuable coin of them all.
Nicola: Ooooooh! Maybe, you know! It’s never explained. But it’s different from all the coins Mad Sweeney has…It could very well be. Why not extend our imaginations a bit. I like it. Yeah, let’s say yes!
Stevi: It’s not the same coin – the one she gave had a cross on it, and was much smaller. But I do think that whatever attaches Mad Sweeney to Wednesday’s war was born in Essie’s telling him to go to America and then bringing him there.
Mo: I’m not sure but i’m leaning more towards no.
Final Verdict: “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” makes our heart break for the surly leprechaun
Before this week, we would not have believed that Mad Sweeney was ever anything but perpetually angry. However, “A Prayer for Mad Sweeney” showed us a softer side of the ginger giant, and he won us over. While initially a story about an Irish girl who believed in legends, we realize that wherever Essie went, the leprechaun followed. When she was faithful in her offerings, he gave her luck. When she lapsed, she suffered greatly. As he mentioned to her in their final meeting, “we’re [fair folk] like the wind…we blow both ways.” However, he was eternally grateful that she remembered him, and he treasured the coin she gave him. Whether Laura is a reincarnation or a distant relative, we don’t know. What we do know is that despite his misgivings, he feels a sense of kinship with the undead woman, and we’ll be watching to see how that plays out!